By: Mark R. Malek
Many times during a patent consultation I will hear a very common line used by many inventors. “This must be patentable, because there’s nothing like it out there.” My first response is usually “where did you look?” The issue is that the very idea you came up with might not be found at the local Wal-Mart or Home Depot. That does not necessarily mean that it is not “out there.”
Think of this – there are over 8,000,000 patents out there. That’s just the issued patents. As you probably know from many of the stories that we have done on the patent application backlog (see past stories here, here, and here) so, as you can imagine, the number of patent applications pushes the amount of “prior art” out there even higher. At the time of this article, the patent dashboard indicated that the number of patent applications that need to still be examined are 671,409.
The point is that it is not sufficient to just assume that since you cannot purchase one, it has not been invented. There are several different places to do some research when you first invent something. For example, two of my favorite sites to look at to do some initial patent searches are Google Patents and FreePatentsOnline. These are great places to get started on your patent searches. Many times, this exercise will help an inventor to narrow down the invention. For example, the inventor may have come up with a broad concept of some sort, e.g., a u-turn signal for a car. That is a very broad idea and, as such, upon initially searching for this invention, one would notice a great number of patents that are already issued for it. The next step is to look at all of those patents, and figure out what makes your invention different. Another great place to do some patent searching is the Patent Office’s website. There is a quick search available and an advanced search available as well. I like the advanced search because it allows the inventor to search by classifications and art units. When all else fails, just do a simple Google search and see what people are posting on the internet.